I was working in a site that wanted and needed a better changeover process on some of their production lines. This site was set up so that there was only 1 maintenance person per line per shift but there was also a 3 hour overlap on some days. We went through the traditional 4 step approach but there was an added complexity to the changeover. The employees who did the changeover were rarely the ones that were there during start-up.

Though the leadership knew this was the right thing to do, it was hard to free up the resources and the time required to do the project effectively. So I came up with a small team, 1 or 2 maintenance techs and 1 operator, to work this process. Also, I did not have any traditional sitdown meetings. We met on the line, during production or changeover and pulled the process together. Even though it was a small group, we were getting a lot accomplished.

Because of this, we developed a feedback loop. We would do the changeover and document the steps, move from internal to external, stream line internal events and the I would come back during production, when the lines was running in steady state, and document the changes, if any, were made. I worked with the operators as well as maintenance staff on the process. Checklists were developed for each type of package. Good stuff.

So we were going into a package change on a Monday to Tuesday and I had sent out the checklists and told the maintenance person to call me when the changeover started so I could document the changes. I also stated in the email that I may not be able to get there due to other commitments but give me a call anyway. I did not receive a call and got up when I normally do. I figured he either got tied up or the changeover was quick and he didn’t need to call. That had happened on occasion.

I get to the site and the first thing I notice is that there is no primary packaging staged for the run. This was around an hour before production so it wasn’t a huge concern but still odd. Then I ran into the maintenance tech.

“Hey, where’s Dave?”, I asked.
“He called off.” he stated

That was not a good sign since he was the one I had been working with and he had the checklists. I reviewed the checklist on the equipment while the maintenance tech worked on another issue. There were packages that had run through the equipment that seemed to be used as “test subjects” to tweak the set-up. Were the settings correct. Nope. In his defence or mine, he had run some product through and it seemed to be working. What did I do? I thought that since this product was slightly different from the one documented, may be it would be okay. Guess what? It wasn’t.

After 2 hours of adjustments and several tongue lashing, we finally got the line running where it should have been. How close was the checklist. Very close but, even at that, there were still some adjustments that we had not captured earlier. This made every one very disappointed in the results for that day.

After discussing the issue with the production manager and site manager, I admitted that it was my fault and that even though the small team had done some great work and that it was still a work in progress, the communication of current state and next steps hurt everyone. What did I do differently?

Made sure the team as well as anyone the team was in contact with related to the project was aware of what was going on and why.

Made sure that there were regular, and timely updates and training where needed. This meant a weekly stand up meeting or posting on the bulletin board of where we were and what’s next.

Didn’t just ask but solicited thoughts on the project and how we could make it better both from stakeholders and those outside the impact zone so that we could incorporate them into the project.

In end, it came out okay and the team was recognized for their good work and the efficiency of the line improved dramatically. The lesson learned – Even if you have a small team working under the radar, you need to broadcast periodically where you are using the radar.